25 April, 2007

"She Likes...Horses...and Tomatoes"

Very recently, Catherine, Erin, and BubandPie all wrote posts about body image. I'm not to quick on the draw here, but I thought I would 'weigh in' with my two cents. That's right, two cents from the pudgy girl.

I started writing this post in my head over the weekend and even put a few thoughts on paper, but at the risk of it being the longest post ever in blogging history, I think I'll just go with whatever is in my head right now.

I've never been a 'little' person. I think at birth I was average, but nevermore after that. I'm not fat, certainly not obese, but I'm not skinny either. In my small elementary/junior high school, I was always the biggest girl in the class. That had it's advantages at certain times: believe it or not, I never had the 'picked last for sports teams' problem - I was undeniably suited for defense, be it hockey, soccer, or football (and I loved it - it was my 'in' with the Boys). And although kids at those ages can be unbelievably cruel, they mostly won't mess with you when they know you can kick the crap out of them.

When I got to high school, I was already interested in boys, but whether because of my actual looks or just the way I perceived my looks, I was never hotly pursued by any boy. Okay, maybe one, but I wouldn't use the word 'hotly'; I would say more 'warmly' and then just when I was starting to think he really liked me (and at the same time realizing that I didn't really like him at all), he dropped a mutual friend off at home after my birthday party and they kissed. And that was the end of that. (Not of my friendship with the girl....you can check out her blog at......okay, okay, she's very likely cringing because I told her I would never let her forget that and I still haven't, so I won't put up a link - I'm nice like that).

My weight and how I thought of myself didn't change all that much in high school. I grew a little taller and dressed a little better, but I still always felt like the Fat Girl in the group. Don't get me wrong, I had plenty of friends, I was involved in choir and student council and I even played JV basketball for one season, but I was never truly comfortable in my own skin no matter much I excelled at any of those things (though I'll exclude basketball from the 'excelled at' category because it quickly became apparent that I was not cut out for a high school career in sports; choir was my niche).

The summer after high school I met my first 'real' boyfriend. Looking back now, I'm not entirely sure what I was thinking - he was rather geeky! But he was 'handsome' (at the time), he was musically gifted, and he was five years older than me which made him a good catch in my barely-out-of-high-school world. Whether he was actually legally blind or truly didn't care what I looked like, I'll never know, but I can't recall him ever once commenting on my looks. After almost six months, we broke up because he was all those aforementioned things, and he was spineless and whiny so I'd had enough.

Throughout my college career I fared much better. I had oodles of guy (and girl) friends and whether or not they thought I was pretty didn't much matter to me. I just enjoyed their company. I've never officially 'dieted' so I wasn't losing any weight, but I felt better about myself simply because I knew that they liked me because I was fun and cool and had a wicked-awesome-sarcastic sense of humour, of course.

Then my fourth and final year came along. There had been times in the previous three or four years that I hadn't felt well, but it hit with a vengeance early that school year. I was sick. I would eat a piece of toast for breakfast and be 'full' for the entire day. Lunch might occasionally be a tomato or a tortilla with just plain tuna inside. I finally stumbled upon my 'Dinner of Champions' when I mixed a plate of cooked potatoes with a hard-boiled egg and added a little s&p. It was flavourless, but I didn't feel horrible after I ate it, and I could keep it in me for a reasonable amount of time. I lost 35+ pounds between November and March.

It was at the beginning of this fourth year that I met the man who I now call Husband. He met me before I started losing any weight and we were 'dating' before I started losing any weight. I still remember when I told him I was sick and that I was being tested for all these diseases and nobody could figure out what was wrong with me. I felt horrible. I cried. He told me he loved me. He was still telling me he loved me more than a year later while he sat in the Pre-Op. room with me waiting for the nurse to wheel me away to surgery. The point is, he loved me when I was a size 16 and he was still loving me when I was a size 10. It has never mattered to him what size I am. He tells me (maybe not quite often enough to satisfy my girly tendencies) that I'm beautiful even when I complain that I'm ugly and I'm having a 'fat' day and everythingandeveryoneintheworldisuseless.

The surgery only fixed part of the problem. The 'mystery' was solved and I was only officially diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome about a year ago. I've gained back some of that 35+lbs, so I'm now relatively comfortable at a size 12 - at least on the bottom. I got me the family hips, so I get to be a pear-shaped woman! Ooohhh....And until this whole pregnancy thing happened, I could happily buy a small tshirt.

This pregnancy though, has been liberating for me. I started off by losing an entire pants size and I still don't quite 'fill' my maternity pants (we laugh when I do my 'Elvis' dance trying to keep them pulled up). It's the first time in my life when medical professionals have ever looked me square in the face and said, "EAT!" Even going so far as to 'prescribe' two of those canned supplemental beverages per day, emphasizing that they did NOT mean SlimFast. (Just FYI: I've not followed that advice. Those drinks taste awful and do we look like we own a money tree? I think not!)

For once in my life I'm allowed to have a belly that sticks out over the top of my pants. I'm supposed to be round in front and gain weight in my arms and my thighs and my butt, and though I've not gained nearly as much weight as I'm 'supposed' to, I FEEL GOOD. I love how I look. Very rarely do I look in the mirror and gasp at my roundness. Instead, I look and I'm pleased with what I see. Because I'm pregnant and damn it, I'm hot! I wish all my friends could see me now! (This is probably that part of the post where I should be including a picture of my pregnant self so you can all congratulate me on my hotness in the comments section, but alas, the house photographer is at work. Too bad.)

Having said all that (and it feels good to have said it), I do wonder how I'll feel about myself after the Mystery Baby has moved out of the womb and into the nursery. I'm sure I'll have my share of crappy self-image days just like all new moms. Either way, I know Husband will still love me and will still call me beautiful.

This leads to an interesting observation though and I'm sure you've noticed it in having read all of this: why does our self-image so thoroughly revolve around what other people think of us? Why is it so different for a girl to have her beauty validated by some random boy when her parents were likely validating it all her life? We all know the opinions of strangers and even friends and family shouldn't matter as much as our own. Many of us know that our value and self-worth isn't about how we look at all, but rather about our identity as its found in Christ. Yet, we're still caught in that validation trap. (I'm wondering out loud here; I really don't have much to offer by way of explanation).

Interestingly enough, with all these body image blog posts still whirling in my head, this past Saturday, Husband and I attended our first ever pageant. Oi. Vey. This was a pageant in a town of maybe 500 people to choose their Little Miss, Pre-Teen Miss, Junior Miss, Teen Miss, and Miss representatives for the 2007 pageant (read: parade) season. We went because the daughter of one of Husband's coworkers was competing for the Junior Miss title. She displayed her dance talent well (albeit in a very disconcerting costume), she is beautiful, and she won. All of the girls did well. We found ourselves (to our horror) rather sucked-in by the end. We had our favourites and knew who we hoped to see win in each category (two categories only had one contestant so that made it easy). With the exception of the coworker's daughter, we sure wouldn't have won any bets because even in the Little Miss category, the cute little brunette who likes horses and tomatoes lost to the tall, skinny, blond and annoying girl who "would describe herself as tall, skinny and pretty," and who, they forgot to add, 'has an ego the size of Delaware.'

What drove me crazy wasn't the pageant itself, but rather the idea that simply by doing a little dance, answering one question about 'Life in (Small Town)' or your favourite subject in school, followed by the casual-wear competition and the evening gown competition can net you a year of flowers, parade appearances, and other assorted privileges. It's just silly. And has it not just reinforced that the slim girls with the nicest clothes win?

Before my wee rant here is finished, let me share with you three of my biggest weight-related pet peeves.

1) I hate when people assume that because I'm 10, 15, or even 20 pounds over my 'ideal' weight, I must hate myself. I must absolutely dread looking in the mirror every morning and I must've already come up with at least a dozen different plans to end my weighty agony by suicide. Does it ever occur to you that I might be well aware I'm slightly overweight, without your stares or comments to remind me? or that I might even be well aware of it and not ready to kill myself because of it? Did it ever occur to you that I don't spend every waking minute thinking about my weight and how I look in the size 12 shorts I have - compared with your exact-same-pair of size 6 shorts? I. am. not. a. monster.

2) It drives me crazy when people say 'Oh, you're not fat' or 'Oh, but look at you, you're so skinny.' Regardless of the fact that I'm pregnant and I'm supposed to look like this, I'm no idiot. I know I'm not fat, but I also know I'm not skinny or tiny or any of the 10 other adjectives you can use to describe me in a way that you hope will earn you brownie points while simultaneously boosting my weight-related ego. Really. I'd rather you just not say anything at all. Or how about just saying, 'Hey, you look really nice today.' Or 'Wow! Those pants make your ass look fabulous!' Please, do not patronize the weight-bearing woman.

3) This has got to be the weight-related pet peeve that most makes me want to slap some women: DO NOT complain about your weight in front of your young daughter(s)! I once saw an episode of Oprah where she was interviewing young girls with eating disorders. She talked to one young (and VERY normal-sized) four year-old who was convinced she was "FAT!" The core problem? Mom talked nonstop about how "fat" she was and how she should be counting her calories so she wouldn't end up fatter and looking like a bloated cow, etc. Every idea this mother had about her weight was being absorbed by the little girl without the mother even realizing it.

I have nothing against health-conscious moms. I know one or two of them. They have eating standards for their families that will, I'm sure, some day put me to shame. But they don't obsess about their weight or their children's weight; they are simply mindful and careful about what they eat. And their children are healthy confident children.

I have no new conclusions or observations to add here. I don't read People or Cosmo or any of those magazines and I sure hope I can dissuade our children from ever reading them. They are, at best, good for a laugh every once in a while, and at worst, trash. Even the Victoria's Secret catalogue is a lark (yes, hello, I'm married now - I can shop at Victoria's Secret without shame). I have to laugh when I can plainly SEE just how airbrushed most of those pictures are!
We eat as well as we can afford to eat and we're not unhealthy people. We exercise without as much regularity as we should, but we're trying. When the Mystery Baby comes our goal is to avoid refined sugar at least until she's two, but we're not going to deprive her of it forever; a kid should have the luxury of a good piece of birthday cake or a cookie now and again.

And that's all I have to say about that, at least for now.


In other news, we can now hear the Mystery Baby's heartbeat with the stethoscope Husband gave me for Christmas! Very cool!

My ultrasound on Monday went well. Husband talked to the Radiologist after I left (how handy to have an 'in' and not have to wait a week for results) and everything looks normal and simply related to the "joys" of pregnancy - and the expense of needless tests. Good grief!

We are celebrating our fifth anniversary on Friday so we'll be gone all weekend. No posts from me until next week. See you then!


erin k said...

Hey, thanks for joining the party. I like what you have to say, especially in the Pet Peeves section.

I have to say that knowing you since high school, I never thought of you as a "bigger girl". Goes to show that a lot of times, right or wrong, we see ourselves much differently than others do. Perhaps that is why we tend to value others' opinions.

Have a fab-o weekend! And Happy Anniversary. (and just so you know, I was remembering before you mentioned it on your blog. What a good friend I am...)

erin k said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bubandpie said...

I really wish I had the answer to your question about why we need validation, especially from boys. I remember trying very hard in high school to derive self-esteem from Christ, but it never worked (I always felt that he didn't really count, because he HAD to love me - after all, he's GOD).

Catherine said...

Thanks for joining in the discussion! Its so great that we can talk openly with each other...

I love the way you describe your husband's love for you. Isn't it great that real life ISN'T like the movies??

And, about mom's and daughters - I SO agree. And I'll add one: I once babysat for a nine year old girl who was build like her dad - tall and big boned. Her mom, though, was one of the smallest people I've ever known. And she (mom) was always trying to get nine year old girl to diet, stop eating, etc. Even to the point of allowing her brother to have seconds but not her. I wanted to shake the mom and say "do you realize what you're doing?!??! Your body shape isn't desirable for your daughter's body, nor obtainable! Teach her to be healthy!!!"